Arkansas Tourism Has Never Been Stronger
Column of Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Secretary Shea Lewis
You may have seen them paddling down the Buffalo River last spring. Maybe you ran into them mountain biking one of our state park Monument Trails this summer. Or you may see their out of state plates en route to the Delta to go duck hunting this winter.
They’re tourists. Arkansas has never seen so many.
Our State’s Department of Tourism just completed its comprehensive tourism economic study for last year. The numbers are staggering.
48.3 million people visited Arkansas in 2022, about sixteen times our state’s population. They spent $9.2 billion while here. That’s an annual increase of 17.1% and 15.4%, respectively.
And as any Arkansan will tell you, the flood isn’t letting up any time soon.
This is all especially good news given that just three years ago, Arkansas’ tourism industry was headed for disaster. The pandemic brought empty hotel rooms and shuttered restaurants, leaving many to wonder if our tourism industry would ever recover.
Well, you can put those concerns to rest. When you combine its direct and indirect impacts, the tourism industry created $15.7 billion in economic activity in our state. That makes it our state’s second-largest industry after agriculture.
Even better, all those full hotel rooms and crowded restaurants generated $24.3 million in Tourism Reinvestment Tax revenue. That’s up 15.8% over the previous year and the highest sum ever. This revenue will be invested right back into marketing our beautiful state, driving even more tourists to Arkansas.
This is all great news for the nearly 70,000 Arkansans employed in the tourism industry, towns big and small, and rural communities all across the Natural State.
But we know we can do even better.
The Sanders Administration was elected to shake up the status quo. Last year’s tourism numbers were great, but we want to keep smashing records in 2023.
That starts with smart policymaking. At the beginning of this administration, Arkansas’ First Gentleman, Bryan Sanders, spearheaded a new working group called the Natural State Initiative to bring together the greatest minds in the public and private sectors and make Arkansas’ outdoor economy even stronger.
Their work paid off quickly, with the legislature passing sweeping reforms last spring to expand access to world class outdoor recreation, including hunting, fishing, cycling, mountain biking, rock climbing, and paddling. We cut red tape at state parks to improve maintenance and amenities for state park visitors.
We established the Natural State Initiative Pilot Program to empower entrepreneurs to test out new concepts in existing recreation areas – things like food, beverage, lodging, and guide services.
We expanded grant initiatives to fund high-impact recreation projects in small towns and broadened the Historic Tax Credit to encourage main street revitalization. And the Sanders Family’s favorite: we cut the price in half for lifetime hunting and fishing licenses for Arkansans under ten to get more kids off screens and outdoors.
All this government action is matching a flurry of activity from businesses and nonprofits. Little Rock’s Museum of Fine Arts recently reopened its doors with a comprehensive facelift, while the long-awaited Marshals Museum in Fort Smith opened this summer. Crystal Bridges is undergoing a massive expansion to cement its status as one of the best museums in America.
Outdoor Magazine just named Arkansas’ state park Monument Trails the best mountain biking trails in the United States, showcasing the natural beauty of four of our finest state parks. The Arkansas Graveler’s inaugural race next year will take riders from around the world on an epic journey through the Ozark Mountains from Fayetteville to Jonesboro.
The Mississippi Flyway is teeming with ducks. Our lakes are teeming with boats. Our roadways and airports are teeming with visitors. And they’ll be even busier next April when Arkansas will be one of the best viewing sites in the country for the Great American Eclipse.
Our tourism industry is taking off, and the Sanders Administration is adding rocket fuel.
What does this mean for Arkansans? More jobs, more investment, and more ways to have fun, for starters. But it also puts Arkansas on the map as the best place to live, work, and raise a family – something we think can be even more important to the growth of our state.
Get ready to see a whole lot more tourists here in Arkansas. The rest of the world is about to discover that there is no better place than the Natural State.